should I tell my new boss about my previous poor performance in this job?

A reader writes:

I started a role at a new company last October. I’ve wanted to work there for ages and it’s a role that perfectly matches my skill set. The role reports direct to the executive director, the only one at my level with a direct reporting line.

Just before I started, my ED was promoted to CEO. During recruitment to replace her, the new CEO continued to do the ED functions, and my reporting line was direct to the CEO. This seemed great at first, but it turned out she didn’t have time for both roles. As a result, I couldn’t get input on my projects. As a new staff member, I had no one to ask questions, and almost no guidance. I did ask senior members of my team for support, but they had little info about my role. A lot what they said was contradictory and confusing. They were also overworked, and suffering from lack of input themselves.

My performance has been poor. This is unusual for me – I’m normally a high-achiever and I expected to excel in this role. A lot of my poor performance has been due to unclear expectations, and there have been a lot of crossed wires.

After three months, I found out that the CEO had asked one of the senior members of my team to be my interim manager until the new ED started. I didn’t realized that for three months, because my interim manager hadn’t been giving me the guidance I needed to do my job. Recently, we had my mid-probation performance review. It was very poor. I’m not on a performance improvement plan, but I think I might not pass my probation. Leading up to this and as a result, I’ve been extremely stressed at work. I cry in the toilets multiple times a day, and my productivity and attention to detail are really down because of the stress. I feel like there are so many expectations on me, and I have no way of knowing what they are, and no way of meeting them.

Finally, this week, the new ED started. She’s confirmed she’s now my direct line manager. But I still have part two of my performance review with my interim line manager, and I know it will be bad. I’m trying so hard, but I know I’m still doing a really poor job, and the stress of doing a poor job is making everything worse.

Should I tell my new ED about my bad performance to date? Or should I take the opportunity to start fresh with a manager who can give me the guidance I need, and hope that’s enough to return me to my usual high performance? She seems great so far, and is keen to get involved with my work. Should I set expectations explaining my poor performance, and my hopes to improve? Or should I let her decide for herself as I try to get better? My probation is up in two months’ time.

The best thing you can do is to sit down with your new boss and lay out the situation as openly as you can.

Typically when new managers start, they’re filled in about any issues on their team. So it’s very, very likely that she’s going to hear (or has already heard) the CEO and interim manager’s impressions of how things are going (and if for some reason she doesn’t, she’ll definitely be looped in on the part two of the evaluation from the interim manager). So it’s not like the choice is between “she hears what’s been happening” or “we start fresh.” She’s going to hear what’s been happening from others, and so you want her to hear your perspective too.

The best thing you can do to make a strong impression is to be very, very candid. Acknowledge the struggles you’ve had, share your perspective on why things have played out this way, and tell her you’re committed to working with her to get back on track and what you think you’ll need to do that.

In doing this, it’ll be important not to sound like you’re exclusively blaming others for the situation. It’s possible that the situation really is 100% caused by the lack of guidance, but because she’s coming in new, she’s not going to know whether or not that’s true and will probably find it concerning if your take is that it’s all caused by other people. It’s a lot more impressive if you can say, “In hindsight, while these weren’t optimal conditions, I should have done XYZ.” (The seniority of your role matters too. The more senior it is, the more she’s going to expect you to have figured out some things on your own, despite the situation — and maybe to think, fairly or not, “Yeah, this wasn’t a great set-up but I also think the right person would have found a way to make it work.”)

If I’m a new manager coming in and hearing that an employee in my department has been getting poor reviews and is still in their probationary period, I’m going to be bracing for the likelihood that it’s just not the right fit. If that person comes to me and says, essentially, “I know this hasn’t been going well, here’s my take on what’s happening, and here’s what I think I need to turn this around,” I’m going to be (a) relieved that the person doesn’t have their head in the sand about the situation and glad they’re making it easy to talk openly about it, and (b) impressed that they’re confronting it head-on and taking responsibility for working with me to see if we can right things.

I do want to flag that even with a new manager and more guidance, it’s possible that this just really isn’t the right job for some reason. It’s possible they need someone who’s really good at working with little guidance, or at sorting through contradictory information. Hopefully not, and hopefully what you encountered was just about the CEO being stretched too thin. But keep that in your head as a possibility — because if your whole being is focused on “I must make this work,” you might miss signs that you shouldn’t try to make it work. It’s okay if it’s the wrong role for you, even though it seemed like an ideal one originally. Sometimes as you learn more about what it takes to succeed in a particular job, you realize it’s just not a good match for you. (Sometimes it’s not a good match for anyone; sometimes “good match” mostly means “will tolerate a crappy situation.”) If it ultimately turns out that you can’t make this job work the way you expected to, that’s okay.

And the other thing is … success here isn’t just that you pass the probationary period and keep the job. Success is that you’re doing well and you feel good about things.

To be totally frank, if you didn’t have a new boss coming in, I’d tell you to seriously consider calling it with this job now. The situation you’ve described — feeling you’re doing a bad job and crying in the bathroom multiple times a day — isn’t one where you should just try to power through, not after it’s gone on this long. See how things go with the new manager, but if you or they ultimately conclude that this isn’t the right match, that’s okay. It’s not failure to not be the right match with every single job that initially seemed promising, regardless of the reasons behind that.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 125 comments… read them below }

  1. Lance*

    What I would be curious about in this scenario is, when the structure gets ‘cleaned up’, so to speak, with the new ED coming in… how much will actively change? Do they already know the general scope of the roles under them, or will they need more time getting up to speed — which, ultimately, would mean the crossed wires may continue? And if OP’s senior peers don’t have much knowledge about the role, or have contradictory info/viewpoints, how could that be cleared up?

    Not trying to lay out negatives, by any means, I’m just curious what OP could do at that point to help make things consistent — their own role here in particular.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes, I’d like to believe – and I sense that OP would like to believe! – that the past problems are coming from not having a boss, and that now there is a boss there’s a fresh slate ahead to do better. That’s certainly possible and I hope is the case, but by no means a guarantee. New hires can often be slow to start and lack organizational capacity for a long time (can’t pull a lot of strings to get what they need), and they’re often going to be primarily informed by the existing framework they came into.

      1. Busy*

        Yes. But I would also like to point out to the OP that they can ask that! They can “from my perspective, this is what I need to succeed in this role” as part of that whole conversation! Cuz it isn’t just about the company; it is about the OP even wanting to continue to work there! And OP can decide right now what it will take in order for her to stay as well. If they cannot or do not foresee providing X,Y, and Z or they feel like it shouldn’t be needed, then OP can make the decision of what that means to them. Its just a change of mindset, but it can really stem to feeling awful about a situation you only had marginal control over to begin with. I mean no goes running rick-shod all over a company when the first start, whether or not they are expected not to need much guidance. It doesn’t sound like OP was put in a great situation, and maybe her insecurities got the better of her. OP just can know that every day is a new day, and that today she can say “I choose to work here. I can choose to leave here if this doesn’t match what I need. And that isn’t my failure.”

        1. OP*

          OP here:

          Thanks for that, that’s really helpful. I like the idea of reminding myself that this is my choice, and I can choose something else if I prefer. That’s a really good reminder.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      This. How much of the hands off was the result of people not knowing they should communicate with OP and how much was; the project/department/role isn’t my purview and I’m not going to step in while there’s a job hunt going.
      Determine what is project based and where communications failed specifically. Determine what was day-to-day stuff that you didn’t know was part of your job and how the communication failed. I think if you take this overwhelming ball of stress and break it into parts, you will see a pattern. You will see who came up short for you and and if and where you came up short yourself.
      A postmortem, right? Be brutally honest and I think you’ll feel better when this amorphous avalanche of “FAILURE” is broken into individual and specific snowflakes. Because some of them are going to be great, some not great, some awful and some won’t matter at all.
      Take charge. Good luck.

      1. OP*

        I think you’re right about the “amorphous avalanche of failure”. There are some parts of my job that I think I’m doing well, but my interim manager is so low on feedback, I don’t hear any positives and the negatives are all so big so it feels like everything must be negative. I think I’m catastophising. Doing a proper analysis would probably be very helpful.

    3. Anonforthis*

      I actually just went through a similar situation recently. I wasn’t bad at my job, per se, but was working under a bad manager who retrospectively changed expectations constantly, and was just never satisfied with mine or anyone’s work. She left and voila, I’m suddenly good at my job and expectations are clear! I would take Alison’s advice to heart, but it’s worth seeing if anything changes with the new leadership.

      1. AnonForThis*

        This is my job situation right now. I was hired under some pretty, shall we say…false expectations. I, along with my teammates were sold a bridge, and told whatever we needed to hear to get us to take the job. 60% of the team has left. I’m looking as well. I’m not sure if I’m a bad fit, or was just led to believe the job was something else and the one I actually have is not right for me. I certainly wouldn’t have said yes if I’d known what is actually is. This, along with constantly changing expectations, lack of mind-reading skills and never being able to satisfy management and a culture misfit has made up my mind. I was very down on myself for a while, but I don’t know if I could’ve ever been successful in this position, and that’s okay. I’m hoping to go back to a job I was really good at, where my efforts were appreciated.

        1. OP*

          Ugh, I know what you mean by lack of mind-reading skills. There’s so many things that I’m supposed to have just magically known but like – how?? I’m glad you’re not so down on yourself at the moment – you’re right, it’s ok not to be successful in a position, particularly one that’s so badly set up.

    4. OP*

      OP here:

      It’s a good question. From what I’ve seen of the new ED so far, I have good hopes for things changing. For one, she’s based out of my office so I’ll actually see her most days – my interim manager is based in a different city, and we mostly communicate by scheduled video calls. But also, the new ED has been brought in for her skills in transformational strategy and team building. She’s from a different sector, which will have it’s challenges, but she’s also not backwards in coming forwards.

      My plan is to give it a few months under the new boss, then reassess again. If it feels like it’s improving at that point, I’ll stick it out. If not, I’ll know it’s time to leave. But I do want to give it a chance under the new boss.

    1. Red Flag City*

      Right? That in and of itself raises MAJOR red flags for me about the job in general. I don’t know that I could stay somewhere long term if they pulled that. A person I didn’t know was managing me got a review about me after not telling me that they were managing me? That’s a no from me.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I do think this is something that OP could report very neutrally to their new boss that would probably make a good case that things have been miss handled.

        1. OP*

          Yep, definitely a thing I’ll be drawing to the new boss’s attention, don’t worry about that!

    2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I’ve had this happen. It is a sign of dysfunction and super poor communication. Also, in my experience, that your interim manager doesn’t want to deal with you at all.

      1. Flash Bristow*

        Yup, I’ve had similar. Two tech teams, one on system A, one on system B. I’m on the B team. Boss leaves (argh! He specifically headhunted me – then left a week after I started! Grr!).

        System A boss is now overseeing us all, but knows nothing about system B so cannot effectively manage or even judge how we are doing. Plus, he knows and banters with the other system A folk; I and my fellow system B colleague are alien to him. He is barely civil to us. We just carry on getting stuff done as best as possible, but boss has no idea about system B so promises things to customers that just aren’t possible in the time. Basically hr sets us up to fail.

        It was awful. I took voluntary redundancy as soon as it was possible. The job just wasn’t the one I was hired for any more. I actually stuck it out for over a year but looking back, I should have walked right out during my 3 month probation period.

        OP, you have my sympathies. Please do consider whether this is the right job for you, as Alison says. You shouldn’t be crying every day! I’m guessing you hate waking up and going to work. That’s not healthy or happy. Please just find something else. Best wishes.

        1. Quiltrrrr*

          This is like me…only I stayed for 3 years!

          I completely understand the posting a few days ago about how you carry the ‘damage’ from past jobs, because I sure carry the damage from that one.

        2. OP*

          Ugh, that sounds awful. It sounds like it was pitting one team against another, too.

          I know I need to reconsider, but I’m just really hoping the new boss changes things. I’m going to give her a few months, and see where we go. For reasons outlined below, I don’t think I can just walk out on this one.


      2. Yikes*

        Same. I had this happen to me once, and let’s just say it wasn’t handled that way because things were going well at the organization.

        1. OP*

          Yeah, there’s a lot of dysfunction at the moment and a big shift in the execs – a lot of people left at the same time as the old CEO (and I don’t think that’s a bad thing). I think it’ll stabilise, but for now things are rocky across the board.


      3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        I had this happen too. I was promoted, starting doing work with my boss, was doing great- and then some other person in the building started giving me work that conflicted with the work I was doing, and my paychecks/payrate swung from week to week.

        Turns out he was my new boss, they just didn’t tell me. Or my old boss. For four months.

    3. twig*

      This gives me flashbacks to that time I was promoted to “office manager” — secretly. and they didn’t tell the current office manager (or anyone else) for something like 3 months.

      not good

      1. Flash Bristow*

        You… sorry, what?!

        Can you tell more? This sounds intriguing (as well as horribly awkward and dysfunctional). How did it happen, and how did it proceed and end, if you don’t mind saying?


        1. Jadelyn*

          Seconding! How does one promote someone, in secret, to a role that already has someone in it…? Like genuinely how is that supposed to work?

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I refer to that kind of job as “growing mushrooms” : OP has been kept in the dark and fed a line of something that nothing else could grow on.

    5. Lucille2*

      That stood out to me too. At best, it’s really poor communication from multiple people. At worst, it’s a symptom of dysfunction.

      At LastJob, we had a manager promoted to director and a big announcement of his promotion. I don’t recall exactly what lead me and others to believe that our managers reported to the newly promoted director and he to our sr. director, but in reality, that’s not how the org was structured. As a result, people who didn’t report to new director went to him for things they thought were in his purview but weren’t in reality. However, it took too long for him or anyone else to actually define the org structure which lead to some messy situations.

      For example, a peer of mine was having issues with his boss. Won’t get into the details, but he went to new director thinking he was going above his boss to get some traction on the issue. However, he was actually complaining to his boss’s peer, not grandboss.

    6. Laoise*

      I had a coworker I was at the same level as promoted to my manager permanently and no one told me.

      She asked me to double check her tone in an email one day, something we did for each other lots, and I saw in her signature that she was manager of our 3-person department!

      It was 100% a red flag for the company.

    7. Beth*

      This struck me too. How do you just…not tell someone that they’ve been assigned an interim manager? That’s completely untenable.

    8. OP*

      OP here:

      Yeah, super weird, right?

      I actually started this role remotely for about 4 weeks, because I needed to move to a different country for it. (Back closer to home, but a different city than I’ve lived before.) When I arrived in the office, the CEO was definitely still my direct line manager, and we sat down together and made plans. Then a week later I had a meeting with Interim Manager, and she said that since the CEO was short on time, she’d been asked to check in on me as a new hire and help out with a few manager type things, and we would catch up for an hour a week. I said great, but when I asked specific questions (like working hours expectations, leave requests over Christmas), I was told these still had to go to the CEO. What I concluded was that Interim Manager was looking out for me, but that the CEO was still my direct manager. I could only talk to Interim Manager about specific things that I was working with her on, not about my other duties. Interim Manager is based in a different city, and we communicate by phone and video call, and sometimes catch up if either of us is traveling and in each other’s office.

      Around late January, I started to twig that she was actually my manager. I asked another senior person on my team who works in my office, but he said he didn’t know – he hadn’t been told one way or the other. I finally got it cleared up around the end of January.

      I’d been having weekly catch ups with Interim Manager, but I still had the strong feeling that I couldn’t ask her for advice about my work that didn’t specifically relate to her, and anyway she wasn’t very helpful when I did ask questions (eg “What’s the expectation around Duty X?” “Well the files are in the drive.” So I just had to figure it all out myself – and I got some stuff wrong).

      Meanwhile I did still ask the CEO for help on specific things, including clearing up expectations around some of my duties. She was helpful when she had time, and acted more like a manager to me than Interim Manager did. So I didn’t figure it out.

      I feel a bit gaslighted by the whole thing. I’m confused about exactly how it all happened, and feel like I must have been an idiot not to figure it out. But I’m generally pretty smart, and that’s my recollection of what happened.

    9. Paulina*

      On the first day of one of my summer jobs (after second year, so I was 19), I suddenly was part of an afternoon meeting where some work was explained to me. I’d met my boss that morning, and been told of the consulting role I was to have, and this work wasn’t it, nor was my boss present (nor did I know whether he knew about the meeting). When I said I’d need to check with my boss about the work, the man in charge of the project screamed at me that he was in charge of this project and I shouldn’t have to do that.

      You think someone might’ve mentioned to me that I was being loaned out to another project that needed help, but nope. You’d also think that someone in charge of a project for the first time might’ve tried to be less sensitive about being in charge, but nope.

      I should’ve quit on the spot, at least once I’d stopped crying in the washroom, but I hated looking for summer jobs. Instead I did a much better job with his project than he expected could be done. And he did apologize. But I never forgot he’d screamed at me for not magically knowing the temporary arrangement, especially since it would’ve been clear from what I said that I didn’t know, and I hope nobody else around there forgot either.

  2. brightstar*

    OP, I recently started a job as a manager and one of the first things they did was to fill me in on the strengths and weaknesses of those reporting to me. You stated in your letter that you have received little guidance, and that you have no way of knowing what expectations you are supposed to me. Can you think about what you have been told in your mid-probation performance review? Did they tell you at that time what they expected of you? I’d approach your new manager with the language Alison stated, and ask for very clear feedback and expectations. If you aren’t sure of what you are supposed to do to improve, you won’t be able to make progress.

    1. Cassandra Mortmain*

      Yes, this is a big red flag for me (not sure if it’s on the interim manager, OP, or both). A poor performance review should definitely include an explicit and specific conversation about expectations. OP needs to ask the interim manager, the new manager, or both, right away about what success looks like, what expectations are currently not being met, and what they need to change in order to meet them.

      1. Cassandra Mortmain*

        To be fair, it’s also usually accepted practice to TELL SOMEONE YOU ARE THEIR INTERIM MANAGER, so I’m happy to believe that this has just been astonishingly poorly handled.

        1. OP*

          OP here:

          The performance review was frustrating. She was bringing up things I did wrong in December. We had the review in late February. Like, ok, I accept I did that wrong – but I needed to know in December, because there’s not much I can do now. And the feedback was just – unclear. Part of my role is project management, and much of the feedback was that I’m not performing the expected functions of a project manager. But what I’ve realised is that project manager is such a vague term that I think what I’m doing is PM, and she thinks it’s not. I’m happy to do what she thinks a PM should do – but I don’t know what that is unless she tells me.

          I’m pretty sure my new boss is going to be more explicit, but I’m also going to push for it.

  3. Sloan Kittering*

    In addition to a narrative of what you’ve learned from your track record so far, I think it’d be helpful to come in to the discussion with your new boss with a) a view of what success in this role would look like going forward and b) your sense of what you’d need to achieve that. Give her something to react to. Does she agree with your vision of success in this role? Or does she her definition of success sound like something that you’re unlikely to be able to achieve? Does she think what you’re asking for seem reasonable and doable, or is she thinking it’s unlikely? This is a good opportunity for you also to decide if you think things can be turned around or not. If not, maybe you can ask about other positions within the org or just start sending out your resume.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I think OP needs to figure out if management has unrealistic expectations and thinking she shouldn’t need much feedback on her work when they’ve given her little guidance, or if she’s expecting hand holding for all of her tasks and she should be at a level (in the company/in her career) where she can handle these tasks on her own. But I’m not sure there are enough details in the letter to determine if OP needs to reevaluate if she’s right for this job or if she hasn’t really been given a chance to excel. Your answer is a great way to start to try and figure that out. The fact that she had an interim manager for 3 months, and that person never reached out to her to let her know tells me that at the very least, the company is lacking some basic management skills.

      1. OP*

        Regarding whether I’m expecting too much hand-holding at my level or not – I just don’t know. My experience has been really negative with almost no positive feedback even about the things I think I’ve done well, so my internal narrative has become “I’m awful at my job” – which might not be objectively true, but I’m just not sure. I’m mid-level – my job title includes the word manager, but I have no reports in this role (others at my level in this company do have a couple of reports). I can certainly figure out stuff on my own, but I need SOME guidance, particularly when I’ve made some assumptions that it turns out were wrong – I need people to tell me what they DO want, rather than just being angry with me. Overall, I feel like the level of guidance I want IS reasonable for my level (i.e. I’m seeking less than I did when I was at lower levels), but maybe I’m wrong and I should just be able to do this and I’m really just awful at this? I just don’t know.

    2. OP*

      I’ve tried thinking about that, what I want success to look like. I think it’s good advice. I find it really hard though, because I’m feeling so negative about my abilities and about work in general. I haven’t been able to define it. I need to work harder at this, I think.

  4. Drax*

    So I’m curious on the other side. If LW decides that this isn’t a job that’s a good match how would they go about talking about it while looking for a new job?

    And from there, how honest would you be about it after the fact when asked down the road why you left said job?

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I think the typical advice in job searching – and applicable here to OP in this level-setting conversation with her boss – is to characterize the experience as being something that you’ve learned. You can’t really trash the org, you have you acknowledge something *you* came away with: “I’ve realized I need to work in organizations that have a more collaborative structure” or “I realized I needed more oversight and guidance” or something. I think it helps to retell what happened as a literal narrative, with a beginning, middle and satisfying ending. The real answer may be more messy but you don’t want to get into all that.

    2. hbc*

      “I came in just as the ED was promoted to CEO, so she understandably didn’t have a lot of time for training me while taking over her new duties, searching for a replacement, and doing her old job. Combine that with my preference for more clear guidelines and structure, and it just wasn’t a good fit.” When questioned further, the OP should have an example scenario ready that shows a good faith effort with reasonable assumptions that ended up not turning out as well as hoped. If it comes up organically, the fact that OP unknowingly had another manager for 2 months is a good anecdote.

      Sure, it might end up making a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants company choose to pass on OP, but that’s probably a good thing for both sides. No point going from the frying pan to the fire.

  5. NewJobWendy*

    I had a new grand-boss start and one of the first things he said to be, before he barely even knew me was, “I don’t think you’re happy here, and that’s OK – it is time to talk about a transition plan?” And I pushed back and said no, in part because I hoped new management would improve the situation. It didn’t and things completely unwound and I was fired less than 3 months letter (by my manager, not by grand-boss). In hindsight, I wish I had said yes and gotten out of there before things got bad and I (unintentionally) burned bridges.

    1. Tiffany In Houston*

      I think most people (myself included) would have said the same thing because you hope you can salvage your job and most of us need an income. Unless a transition plan includes a severance package of some sort, I’m not sure what your (former) grandboss expected you to say!

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      That’s a loaded question. What are you supposed to say?
      “You’re right, I hate it here and I need a new job?”
      “Your right, I can’t do this job so I guess I should go.”
      It was time to talk about exactly what OP is asking, “what has been going on that resulted in my hearing that there is a problem with your work?”
      Are you having problems doing the work or are you having problems with the process/procedure?
      If he really cared and didn’t just take manager’s word for it, he would have made an effort to see what was going on, not just leave you floundering until your boss could get rid of you.

      1. fposte*

        I think it’s fine, assuming sanity all around, to say “You’re right; I’ve been struggling, and I think it’s not a fit. Given current projects, I’d like to plan for a longer transition; could we consider eight weeks [or whatever] as time for me to wrap things up and find something else?”

        Sometimes it’s just not a fit, or it’s too tainted by past badness to recuperate. It’s okay for people to move on amiably and find something that works better for both sides.

          1. NewJobWendy*

            In fairness, I WAS unhappy at work and what I should have said was “I’m unhappy because this job doesn’t align with my career goals” and discussed a reasonable time frame for getting out. I was already aggressively job hunting and the flexibility to do interviews openly instead of clandestinely would have helped; along with the ability to transition my knowledge effectively, because while I was unhappy , I didn’t bear any spite or ill will.

            It can be a loaded question, but in my case I was genuinely being thrown a life line and should have taken it. It has a happy ending: I received a job offer the day after we agreed to a termination date, so we were able to agree to calling it a voluntary resignation and I went straight from old job to new job without a gap. I’m thriving in my new job and would have made the change even if things had been sunshine and roses at the old job because it was an office manager role and I wanted to be ( and now am!) an accountant.

      2. pleaset*

        My wife would love that question. She’s job searching anyway, and is about to jump. Coordinating it with her boss, which might include severance pay, would be good.

        She’s hoping layoff with severance packages come in the next six months.

      3. TootsNYC*

        I think if you secretly agree, the thing to say is to ask a question:

        “What do you mean by transition plan?”

        1. TootsNYC*

          because one transition plan is just for you to leave, period, with nothing. And that’s not something people can do.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I had a friend who had the management plan change, and his role change, and suddenly he was “not doing a good job,” and in convos w/ HR, they kept trying to maneuver him into saying, “I want to leave” so they could claim he quit and not have to pay unemployment.

          He kept saying, “Do YOU want me to leave?” because if he were fired for non-performance or unsatisfactory performance, he would qualify for unemployment in our state. But not if he said, “I want to leave.” Not if he quit.

          1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

            Yup I’ve seen that happen at work too, “let’s trick him into quitting so he won’t claim unemployment.” I heard that statement said out loud.

          2. Super Dee Duper Anon*

            Oh this is an important point (if you’re in the situation where the role is not the right fit and there’s probably going to be a “transition”). It is a good idea to take a moment to carefully consider which is going to be more beneficial or more detrimental – being fired but probably being able to collect unemployment vs choosing the resign (and not having to say you were fired) but not being able to collect unemployment.

            I had to make the decision once. I chose to resign and thankfully was able to negotiate a long notice period and flexibility for interviews (no severance though), but that was a very scary leap. I had no guarantee I’d find something else and really didn’t have any savings, so I did consider letting things play out to their inevitable conclusion just so I’d have the safety net of unemployment.

            Just something that the LW should keep in mind if they do decide this role is just not for them.

            1. Jadelyn*

              We’ve offered folks that option before: we’re going to let you go, but if you want, you can resign first. And like you say, it’s the question of which is more important to you: having to explain that you were fired when you’re looking for another job but getting unemployment money, or not getting unemployment money but also not having to say you were fired. And there doesn’t seem to be a clear pattern in which option people go for – it’s about 50/50 split in my experience.

          3. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Yup. I’ve mentioned my startup company miscommunication before — when they asked (in effect) did I just quit or was I fired, they were shocked that I took the firing.
            But there were several truths in that conversation: Yes I’d been unhappy that the officemanager/marketing assistant job turned more and more into the company receptionist. But also truth: I’d been gritting my teeth and supporting their office admin needs while also pitching in on the marketing side, biding my time until their revenue stream justified marketing person#2. And also truth: I knew that if I quit I wasn’t going to get unemployment!

  6. Normandie*

    Ugh, OP, I’m so sorry–I’ve been in a variant of this situation, and it’s absolutely awful. My own experience is much more mild, but seems to be a (small) slice of the same pie you’re dealing with. My manager (with whom I’d worked directly for about three years) was promoted to the head of our org, and without a clear place to put me, I stayed under her direct supervision for much longer than I should have because she got INSANELY busy.

    She was a great manager, but also VERY absent in the wake of a ton of new duties, so I floundered under a lack of direction, or half-direction wherein my follow-up questions would get lost in her deluge of new responsibilities. A lot of my big projects (especially ones that involved me learning and developing new skills, and relying on content from others) fell WAY behind due to an unhealthy combination of lack of timely response on her end and my unwillingness to (1) bother her and (2) admit I had relatively little clue as to what I was doing. It never affected my performance reviews, but it’s sure affected my mental health at certain points, and made work unnecessarily stressful to the point where I have mild but concerning panic attacks every few weeks.

    In short, I floundered. A lot.

    A year and a half (and two small-scale re-orgs, in an effort to put my admittedly hard-to-categorize position into the appropriate department) later, I’m still somewhat behind on everything and just now feel like I’m getting a handhold on my duties and am able to speak up (and be properly heard) when I have questions. I have a clear (and much more present) direct manager, and am able to go to her and get things answered in a timely and clear fashion. She’s also always available when I need clarification or direction on any particular thing.

    I’m still anxious at work, still worried (largely unnecessarily) that I’m dropping all sorts of important things, but I’m now able to fight back that pervasive sense of impostor syndrome and worries that I’m actually super incompetent and realize, “No, I was in a really strange position without a lot of support, and now I can start building myself and my skills up again in the workplace.”

    I know things will work out for you, OP. Like Alison, I would also advocate for you to explain your situation to your new manager. It sounds like she’ll be able to give you the support and structure of expectations you need to succeed in this position. Best of luck!

    1. Normandie*

      (Forgot to mention–if you decide this job just might not be for you, that’s fine too! Just wanted to share a similar experience, and also highlight the fact that I’d been at my particular org for a while before this upheaval happened, so I had previous experience with my position and the overall work culture to guide me.)

    2. OP*

      I’m really glad things are panning out ok!! Gives me hope – though I hope it doesn’t take a year an a half! And it’s really nice to hear about a similar situation.

  7. Jennifer*

    Perfect advice. If you haven’t already done this, update your resume and start putting feelers out for new jobs.

  8. Amber Rose*

    If expectations were clear, would you like the work? Would you like your coworkers? Even if you stopped crying from stress, would your stress be improved enough for you to feel good about yourself and your work?

    I’m wondering whether this job shouldn’t just be a write off for you. The company doesn’t sound terribly well managed, and there doesn’t seem to be any clear processes or anything. Even if you knew what to do, I think you’d run into these same problems in the future since everyone has conflicting, contradictory expectations, and there’s no way of knowing if your new boss is gonna be the type to back you up… or throw you under the bus as hard as they can. Or somewhere in the middle.

    Sit down with your new boss and bluntly lay it all out, but also try to get a feeling for this boss and whether they are going to be able to provide the kind of management you need to excel.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I agree – I think a lot is going to depend on you talking to the new ED and how you feel after that conversation.

    2. Not So NewReader*


      I am not impressed with this company at all. I think Alison gave a very generous read on the situation, OP, with the idea of how you would stay employed in such a place. My bias could be at play here but I am very much aware there are companies who do not train the new hire, chalk it up to the new hire needs to be self-motivated and the employees stand around and laugh at each failure the new hire has. BTDT. Granted you do not say anyone is laughing at you, but you also don’t point to anyone seeing your plight and offering little helps either.

      It’s striking to me that NO ONE in that company is whispering in your ear, “Don’t forget ABC!” or “Here’s XYZ that you will need.” It seems to me that if you had at least one friend or ally in the place you would be crying in the bathroom a whole lot less. I have worked several toxic places and I know that sometimes a few people “get it” they understand what is wrong and they try to help the new hire. Your place sounds like a real mess.

      I believe you when you say you are usually a high achiever. But I don’t think I would advise you to absorb all the blame for this situation.
      Did anyone even bother to give you an orientation to this place or did they just say,”There’s your desk. Good luck.”? If you never had orientation, I would be sure to say, “And I am still waiting on my orientation. Can we schedule that?”
      If you were supposed to have particular trainings I would ask to have those trainings scheduled.
      The subtly here is that instead of saying, “I never got orientation” which sounds like blaming others, you simply take charge of what you need to do your job by asking for these specific things.

      What I see here is:
      1) Company hires you with no plan of training, orienting or coaching you.
      2) Your boss suddenly gets promoted but never quite gets rid of her old job.
      3) All your higher ups are overworked and too busy also.
      4) Everyone is so overworked and so busy that the ENTIRE company forgets to tell you that you have a new temp boss. Everyone is in this place is frantic and praying they survive the day.
      5) So finally Secret Boss gives you an eval. I hope this is not the first time you are seeing the talking points on the eval, but I bet it is.
      6)The eval takes TWO Days??? And you have only been there since October? Really?

      I have a little difficulty with the concept of drawing it back on yourself. This could start to feel like a relationship with an abusive parent or SO, where one takes the blame so the abuser can continue what they are doing. Ask for what you need to do your job. The list you ask for will telegraph just how much was lacking with your onboarding. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by calmly and professionally standing up for yourself.
      One place I worked for I said, “I have been here six months and had five different bosses. What is being done to ensure my work is fairly evaluated?” OP, I had nothing to lose, I could feel myself sliding toward the door. This was my latch ditch effort to try to make lemonade out of all the lemons.

      I can tell you the end of this story and I think you MIGHT have a parallel experience. It IS possible to effectively stand up for one’s self in these situations. Keep your eye on the prize, is the prize worth the effort? If you win the prize do you feel like you have won something? I won my prize, I got to keep my job. I spent the rest of the time I was there fighting HARD over many, many things. OP, these people are showing you who they are and how they fly, it’s perfectly okay to decide to believe them and stop wishing for the job to be better. There is a reason why everyone is overworked and has no time for new hires. If you stay you will become one of the overworked people.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        last ditch, not latch ditch.
        See? It still rankles me after all these years. Can’t even type because of being rankled. I feel ya, OP.

      2. OP*

        Thanks so much, I seriously feel so HEARD right now!

        My induction happened mid-February. I started in October. The story was that they like to run the induction every two months or so because there is a lot of turnover (red flag, I know), so some people will have a bit of a delay. Then it was Christmas, and people were away in January, finally the HR officer (who is new herself) got around to scheduling it, mostly because I was needling her about it and she wanted to be inducted herself (no one else was pushing her to organise it, she did it on her own). My primary feedback was that the induction was great, but it would have been a LOT more useful in October than it was in February.

        You’re completely right about everyone being overworked. That’s a big part, I think, of me not getting the support I need – so many people are barely keeping their heads above water as it is.

        And yes, while I knew the evaluation was going to be poor (or I suspected as much, given the complete lack of positive feedback I’ve had, the specific points she rose were new. She was telling me I did stuff wrong in December. Ok – but I needed to know in December. The eval was originally scheduled for half an hour. She extended it to an hour and asked the Head of HR to step in. I was really worried – she didn’t explain why the Head of HR needed to be there, and I thought there was a good chance I was going to get fired. (The she delayed the meeting by a week, so this was hanging over my head for two full weeks.) I ended up phoning the HR head and asking her how worried I should be – our HR Head is absolutely wonderful and was completely candid with me. She said she didn’t know (she’s ALSO new, our entire HR department is new atm), but that she would be really unimpressed if that’s what happened and she would argue against it, it’s not fair to sack someone with no warning, etc. I’m often not trusting of HR, but this person really does seem to have employees best interests at heart, I’ve had a number of dealings with her about different things and she’s really impressive. The HR Head texted me after to say I’d done well in a hard situation, which was really kind. (I cried a lot during my review, but tried to be very open to the criticism and find ways to do better.)

        I ended up having day two of my eval in between writing the letter and the response being published. Interim Manager just said she’d confirmed with my new manager that I was no longer reporting to her, so all good and she’d finalise the form and send it on to the new boss. It lasted about 10 minutes. But then I read her comments on the form and I disagree with so many – she’s written that I said things I have no recollection of saying. The form will be sent to my new boss once it’s finalised. I’ve tried to get on the phone with her about it for the past 3 days but no luck. I think maybe I should just drop it? Ugh.

        You’re right about the culture of overwork. I think I could put up with it for a while? I’m still so in love with the company and what they do. They have the most amazing reputation in my sector, and I’ve wanted to work there for years. Every single person in my network who is familiar with this sector was impressed that I got a job with this company – they’re small, they have a reputation for being extremely high-performing, and they are one of the biggest movers and shakers in the sector. I want to stick it out for a bit longer at least, but I think you’re right, and I def need to keep this in mind.

        1. Screaming Flying Monkey Toy*

          Don’t drop it, OP! This stuff matters, especially when it’s in writing and they’ll use it to judge your performance. Have you sent her an email? Super simple “Hey name, I just wanted to circle back to my evaluation. There are a few items I disagree with/would like to discuss before you finalise the letter. Do you have time for a quick call at (proposed time/date)? ” And then discuss it in the call. Keep a paper trail of your efforts in fixing things.

          I think it’s so interesting you say you’re still in love with the company and what they do, when you’ve also said “so many people are barely keeping their heads above water as it is.” and you’ve been so badly treated and upset. Does a company that treats its people so badly still deserve that kind of admiration, no matter what they external facing image is?

          Either way, I’m thinking of you OP. Sounds like a nightmare situation and I wish you all the best!

    3. Beth*

      Yeah, it does kind of sound like larger problems might be getting buried under bad management. OP, it sounds like you’re really unhappy right now. Do you think that’s 100% on the lack of support you’ve had so far, or could there be other causes (not liking the work itself, not getting along with coworkers, etc.) as well? If better management would genuinely fix everything that’s making work miserable for you right now, then sure, maybe wait and see if the new manager addresses the things you would need to change. But if there are other problems too…well, odds are all of them aren’t going to get fixed, definitely not all at once and maybe not ever. Is it worth enduring this much stress for something that might only become so-so even if the new manager is great?

      1. OP*

        The work itself is ok, my colleagues are actually wonderful. It really is like 95% management. I just feel like I can’t do anything right. It feels like I try to do something, get told it’s terrible, try a different way, get told it’s worse, but never get told what they DO want. And I have no one to ask questions, and everyone I do ask is sympathetic but has no answers. I don’t know if it’s worth the stress, but I literally moved country for this job, so I have to hope that it is??

        1. TardyTardis*

          Oh, I had that boss. She treated everyone like that–she finally found someone who could read her mind shortly before she herself retired, but ran through six accountants that I know of before then.

    4. OP*

      She SAYS she’s going to be the type to back me up – so I hope so?

      Would I like the work even if it was going perfectly? Lately I’m questioning that. I’m wondering if knowledge work is even right for me. But I don’t know. I do think that the PD on this job plays to my strengths really well, and I absolutely believe in the mission of the organisation – so I guess the answer is, I hope so, but I’m not sure.

      On the plus side, my co-workers are delightful. I don’t work directly with them, which is frustrating because I’m a very team-oriented person who likes to collaborate so that’s getting me down. But everyone in the office is just a very lovely human, so that’s a big plus.

  9. Dragonfly*

    LW, if the interim manager had intended to throw spanners in the works and get you to do badly, he or she would more or less have done what they did. I say this from experience: standing by and leaving the newcomer to figure things out on their own always has a hugely negative impact on the person’s self-confidence and on their performance. It is a way to isolate them, albeit unintentionally, and isolation is so not mormal as to be, well, inhuman. You will of course do well to take the advice given here and, in your discussion, leave the final diagnosis to the new executive director, but it is important that deep down you do not lose faith in your capabilities and that you continue to have high aspirations. Best of luck with your review and your career in general.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Agreed. I wrote a post stating that OP should do a serious post mortem on the situation. If it really comes down to management failed me and continues to do, this is not your fault. You won’t be able to go to the new manager and blame everybody, but you will know that it’s not your fault. And if the new manager seems to be like the current leaders, you will have to think about leaving.

  10. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    I’ve taken jobs where I could do them really well, only to find out the reason the job was open was because someone set it up for failure from the outset, by, say, budgeting 0 for a department’s staff pay but expecting 15 staff to be hired to work 300 hours/week without creating a deficit, or refusing to hand off core responsibilities of the job so the job was actually begging someone to please purchase equipment you should be allowed to approve on your own. It’s not that you failed to do the job…it’s that the company failed to create a job that was reasonably doable.

    It’s true that someone might come along and be able to magically divine the way to do an end-run around all of this chaos using end-justifies-the-means methods (say, violating labor laws by having people work off the clock to meet budget, or having staff work without personal protective equipment because no one would sign off on the purchase)…but you might not be the kind of person who’s OK with that. And that’s fine! That just means this company isn’t a good fit.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I am glad that other people are also seeing a “set up for failure” going on here.

    2. OP*

      Yeah, I really do feel like I’ve been set up for failure, or at least that I’ve fallen through the cracks with the new CEO’s promotion. My interim manager actually acknowledged as much at the start of my performance review (“set up badly to an extent”), which was really reassuring to hear, even if it went really badly from there.

  11. Rainy days*

    I don’t know if everyone would feel this way, but when the employees I manage show they are aware of where they’re struggling, it gives me hope that we’ll be able to make progress toward fixing it. It’s the first step toward changing. Your new manager will hopefully be relieved when you are up front and open about your issues. Good luck!

    1. DaffyDuck*

      Yes! Just by letting her manager know she is aware of the issues puts her in a good light.

    2. Lana Kane*

      I absolutely feel that way, but I’m currently managing an employee who had that kind of honesty blow up for her with previous managers. It’s not a given that most managers would see that kind of awareness in a good light, unfortunately. When OP talks to her ED, I think they should be prepared for this conversation to spur them into finding another job.

      1. OP*

        That’s what I’ve been worried about. Does it show positive self-reflection, or is it me saying “Hello! I’m terrible! Nice to meet you!!” I will 100% cry during that conversation, too, cos that’s just who I am lately. (It’s so unprofessional, but I just can’t make it stop.)

  12. DaffyDuck*

    I want to second going to your new manager ASAP. Have a discussion about what your duties are/should be and what processes are expected. This might take more than one meeting. This is going to make you look good because you are acting proactively.
    I bet you will feel much less stress after the first meeting.
    This situation sounds as if there is no procedural documentation in place and your previous managers either had no clue what you were actually supposed to do or just figured that if you have questions you will track them down and pin them to the floor until you have answers.

    1. OP*

      Yeah, I think proactive is the way to go, hey. I was hoping not, because I know it’s going to be hard, but probably best in the long-term.

  13. AKchic*

    There is so much mishandled here that I would be very tempted to leave and not even put this job on my resume… if this were me.

    If I am reading this correctly, you were hired during a transition period and seemingly had no direct manager to report to. You tried to get guidance, but nobody knew enough about your role to give you accurate guidance. There was a manager to report to, but nobody bothered to tell you, which suggests that you weren’t even given enough consideration to be included on even an email saying “hey, OP is going to be reporting to you until we get this all straightened out”, and I’m sure they cc’d HR on *that* email.

    I’m not sure when this letter was sent in, but it is March now. That means you’ve been with the company for roughly 5 months. I am assuming that you have a 6 month probationary period. Not knowing who your manager is for any length of time is kind of a big deal.
    I’m not saying you’re not right for this job, I’m saying this company may not be right for you. Why? Because they may not have their internal checks and balances in place to actually handle any kind of change, let alone be able to handle the day-to-day. This kind of confusion shouldn’t have happened, or at least shouldn’t have gone on for so long. 2 weeks, maximum for the confusion of “who do I report to?” and figuring that out and then letting you know. Yes, you could have been more proactive and seeking that answer out, but that’s in the past and I have a feeling that the ED/CEO gave off the air of “I am too busy to be bothered with small things like this” and it contributed to you not pushing for that answer.

    1. The staff side of higher ed*

      This is where I come down, too. To repeat: It’s a big friggin’ deal to not know who your manager was, and I don’t even know that it’s on you to clarify.

      Charitably, this organization seems to be going through a messy transition phase. That’s the best possible reading of it. Given how the job started, are you sure you even want to stay? I have a sneaking suspicion that you will not get the amount of support you need to do the job well, within a reasonable amount of time.

      1. Khlovia*

        This. I assume they did not expect OP to wander the corridors stopping random strangers and asking, “Hey, are you my manager?”, but they don’t seem to have been much more organized than that.

    2. OP*

      I sent the letter 4 days ago – Alison is quick on the replies!!!

      Yes, I’ve been there 4-5 months now. I started part-time remote in October while I sorted out moving, then full-time early November once I arrived in the office. And yes, 6 months probation. The period of having the wrong idea about who I was reporting to lasted about 2.5 months. Far too long, I know. :-(

  14. NW Mossy*

    I’ll echo Alison to say that demonstrating self-awareness and ownership over your own performance goes a LONG way to set the right kind of framework with a new boss. I’ve come into managing teams that had employees that were struggling, and the ones that said “you know, I had some issues, I understand what they are, and here’s how I’m changing” generally were able to right their ship within a few months. They’ve already done the hardest work, which is the introspection to understand where they were falling short and why that mattered.

    On the flip side, those that took the tack of “it wasn’t my fault, past critiques of me are wrong/unfair, the blame lies with [insert someone else here]” tended to demonstrate almost immediately that the warnings I received about their poor performance coming in were well-founded. In my experience, this approach says that the person is likely to resist feedback in general and that I’ll have my work cut out for me resetting expectations about how to handle corrective input. I’m willing to put in that work, but if the employee’s not doing their portion to understand the need for change and take action in that direction, there’s only so far I can drag them. Sadly, I’ve ended up firing people when they couldn’t or wouldn’t take those steps.

    Your question is timely, because I’m a bit concerned that I’ve got one of the latter on my new team. Right now I’m cautiously hoping that it’s a situation where they haven’t gotten feedback on the issues before and can fix it with that input, but also wouldn’t be surprised to find that they’re intractable on it.

  15. Hold My Cosmo*

    LW, my department is dealing with a similar musical chairs situation (brought on by an impending retirement, and a daisy chain of people shifting roles as a result). My own boss is in flux in regards to who she reports to, and it is causing problems for our group. For context, she’s worked here for almost twenty years. There is no way you, as a freshman employee, could reasonably be expected to have handled this on your own.

  16. anon4this*

    I kind of feel like there’s some missing pieces here. How did the OP find out they were supposed to have an interim manager?
    OP, after your review, and given your connection with the CEO, why not go to her and explain the situation (your interim manager took zero accountability for managing you for 3 months and is now saying you’re a poor performer in a review), although if she’s unresponsive, you may not have many options. Also, did you ask any questions to your interim manager during the review? Like where they had been the last 90 days?
    It seems to me like your org is restructuring and you since your new, your company is seeing if you sink or swim. IMO you should look for another job, but if you don’t want to, I would find someone you can connect with on the Senior Staff, so at least someone can vouch for you.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Yeah I feel like things are missing as well. It sounds like she started a new job and is in a probationary period (not sure how long). I’m not sure what OP said during her performance review, but it also doesn’t seem like she’s addressed any of the issue she’s having. She says that she can’t get feedback from her manager, or any seniors on her team, but has she expressed that to anyone as to why she’s not doing her job well? I also wonder if she’s at a level in her career where she should be expected to handle many things on her own, or if they’re setting her up to fail? Bottom line is that she needs to speak up, ask about expectations, and determine whether she is a good fit for this job and if this company is the right fit for her.

      1. OP*

        All good questions.

        Figuring out that I had an interim manager was progressive and I can’t remember exactly how I realised. I had one moment in late-January where I suddenly thought that Interim Manager might actually be supposed to be my manager, and I asked another senior team member if he knew if she was, and he thought I was still reporting to the CEO. (He works in my office, Interim Manager is in a different office which hasn’t helped.) And when I approached the CEO for manager type things (rarely, cos she’s flat out and I don’t want to add more to her plate), she was responsive – she never said “you should speak to Interim Manager about this because she is your manager”, she provided the type of input I would expect a manager to provide.

        I’m at a point in my career where I am supposed to be figuring out things on my own. So I didn’t want to be constantly badgering people, especially the CEO who I thought was my manager. I had a lot of people on one of my projects who are at mid-senior level offering input on what I should be doing, but so much was contradictory, and much directly contracted what the CEO had explicitly told me to do.

        I know this all sounds nuts. It’s my recollection of what happened, but I feel kind of gaslit by the whole situation. I’m so confused.

  17. Junior Dev*

    This is not something to go into detail in the initial meeting where you explain the situation, but you might outline it in a general way and ask the boss to talk about it more later: I think it would be helpful if you could do some thinking about the support you did not receive and write down some positive things that would make the situation better. For example: having a weekly check-in with your boss, having a project management tool like Trello that you and your boss look at regularly so they know what you are working on and can come to you with questions or concerns, having written objectives for the quarter or for each project. Customize these as appropriate for your role, and set up another meeting with your boss to talk about implementing them.

    I just moved from a job where expectations were very unclear and confusing to one where things are better and I think talking about these things upfront has been very helpful.

    Good luck OP!

  18. spek*

    The post brings up a question. If you are let go after a failed probationary period, how does this affect your unemployment benefits? I guess you are technically being let go for poor performance, but are you really being fired for cause, which in most states would disqualify you from receiving unemployment benefits?

    1. Jaybeetee*

      Depends on region I would think. I had this happen to me at one job where the probationary period was three months and I was so screamingly not a right fit – it felt like no matter what I tried, or what they tried, or how we communicated or what questions I asked, even after they offered me extra training and I seemed to get it right in the training environment, every time I did a task it would just come out egregiously wrong somehow. Never experienced anything else like it.

      What they wound up putting down was literally “Not Right Fit”, which I think counts as a form of layoff and I was able to collect EI. Essentially it means I didn’t do anything “wrong”/wasn’t fired for cause, but I wasn’t working out there so they cut the cord. (Frankly, it was a relief – I knew it was a disaster, but I wasn’t sure if I could get EI if *I* quit). I picked up a different job about 6 weeks later where I did *much* better and got some of my confidence back.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        A quick clarification — layoff means the position is eliminated. So this wasn’t a layoff but you were eligible for unemployment for the reason I describe below.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This can vary by state and there are exceptions to what I’m about to say, but in general: Typically you can get unemployment if you just didn’t work out in the job (not the right skills/talents), but not if you did something “wrong.” They will veto you if you had any conduct problems — lateness, absenteeism, insubordination, disregarded clear instructions, etc. But if you just weren’t very good at the job, you’ll usually be eligible.

    3. TootsNYC*

      yes, it can be very state specific.

      In NYState, as I understand it, “not doing the job well enough” is not considered “for cause.” And you will qualify for unemployment benefits.

      If you steal, or no-show, or violate some company policy, then you do not qualify for unemployment.

      But also…if you QUIT, you don’t qualify.
      So if you want to talk about a transition out, you want to make sure you aren’t every saying, “I’ll leave.” Instead say, “Maybe it would be best if you lay me off.”

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Adding: In NYS, if a company has a very long and heavy history of accusing a great number of people of stealing, unemployment may laugh at the company’s gaping credibility and push the claim through. That does happen, too. The reputation of the company can be a factor in some instances.

  19. Jaybeetee*

    There are indeed people out there who thrive on walking into a new job and making order out of chaos. My ex was one of those. Could walk into a complete circus and just start setting it right. I also have a former colleague who would deliberately transfer to up-and-coming departments or take on notoriously difficult assignments/groups. Thrived on it. Both smart/confident enough guys to just be able to dive in and do things with zero guidance (or even contradictory processes), and not take it personally when higher-ups pushed back or pointed out things that were missed. They’d just fix whatever needed fixing and get on with it. And both those guys were *loved* in their workplaces! (I suppose that’s essentially what “start-up culture” is?)

    Then there’s the rest of us, who need some training/support/processes in place, and aren’t smart/experienced/confident/whatever enough to reinvent the wheel in a new position or create the systems ourselves, foreseeing all the components we’d have to factor in. Me, with some experience? Sure, I love the idea of just being left to my devices to manage myself. Me, as a rookie in a new job? Nooooo.

    Seems to be a bit of a theme with letters lately (and I saw a post on Reddit recently on a similar topic) of people struggling in workplaces where they feel they’re not being given enough guidance or management support, and a general discussion as to how much an employee should be expected to “problem-solve” and figure out for themselves how to get things done, and how much they should be able to rely on their employers to provide the resources they need – including training and availability.

    LW, if you still want this job at all, I do strongly agree with Alison that your best bet is to sit down with your manager and lay your cards on the table as to what you perceive to have happened and what you perceive you’ll need to right the ship. It might be that once you’re confident in the role, your anxiety will diminish. Or it might be that this is entirely the wrong job for you. That’s okay. It happens. (My mother, who I perceive as a Pretty Successful Career Lady who is in the top-income tier in her field, has been fired at least once that I know of. Sometimes people and places just don’t fit. It’s really, truly not a reflection on you, even if you don’t believe that right now.)

  20. Samwise*

    OK, I’m going to go a bit against the commentariat grain here…

    While this does sound like a really tough situation, I’m wondering how well the OP’s requests for assistance were couched. OP, were you clear and persistent (not in an obnoxous way, of course)? Did you follow up? So for instance, did you set meetings with the CEO to go over a specific list of things you needed to do, how you would do them, due dates and the like? Same thing with the senior folk you asked for help. Did you ask CEO/senior folk who else could assist you, or where you could get needed resources? Do you have your notes from these meetings, emails, that sort of thing? When you did not get what you needed, how did you follow up — did you decide on a course of action, then let CEO/senior folk, I haven’t been able to get direction on XYZ, so here is my course of action, does that sound right to you or should I do something different?

    If you did that, my apologies!

    AAM is often advising people to make sure they are not being too roundabout and not assuming others know what our softened language really means. So that’s what I’m asking here. If that’s what happened to you, you might include that in your discussion with your new manager: I realize now that I didn’t communicate my needs clearly enough; going forward, I plan to ABC to make sure communication is clear.

    1. your favorite person*

      These are really good questions. I have a subordinate that will ask questions and follow-ups with reasonable deadlines to other departments, but seems to be terrified of actually following through with the deadlines. She would come to me to get me to ask them to send what she needs. Usually, they didn’t realize they had missed one her questions via email and didn’t know what she needed! All it takes is a five minute phone call on my end to get the answers.

    2. OP*

      I think I could have done a better job at that.

      I’m at that mid-point in my career where I’m expected to move from having things spelled out to figuring more things out on my own. When I got an unclear answer, I took that as a “you’re supposed to be able to figure that out on your own” signal, rather than following up with further questions. I wanted to demonstrate that I’m independent and can figure things out. But I got so much wrong.

      But also – some of the responses I got when I did ask were pretty dismissive. I’m managing a whole-org process, and Interim Manager is the one who managed that process last year. When I asked her about what needed to happen, she told me that the files were in the shared drive. Follow up questions were met with the same response – so I do think she expected me to just figure it out. Was that a reasonable expectation? I’m not sure. It would have saved me weeks of stress and a whole lot of errors if she had just sat down with me for 90 minutes and talked me through it.

  21. American Ninja Worrier*

    OP, I’ve been in a similar situation and it sucked so much. It’s so frustrating to feel like you could be succeeding if things had gone according to plan. I found myself in roles where I was expecting to bring transferrable skills to learn a new role, but the expectation turned out to be that I would figure out the job pretty independently with some feedback from higher-ups but no real training. Ultimately, it didn’t really matter if that was their failing or mine. Either way, I wasn’t going to be happy or successful there, and I used that knowledge to help me choose a better fit when I was job searching.

    I hope your new boss recognizes that you got screwed over by bad timing and iffy management, and she can help you get back on track to become great at your job. But if that turns out not to be the case, just know that this experience doesn’t define your career and it really doesn’t define you as a person.

  22. catwoman2965*

    This kind of reminds me of my first job out of college. I was an admin to a manager. We were our own small segment of a larger dept. But her niche was very specialized. I was there maybe 4 years (in hindsight WAY too long but that’s a whole other issue), when she asked for, and got permission to work from home. This was in the early 1990’s so pre-cell phones, internet, and even email. While we had computers in the office, they weren’t connected to any network, or anything like that at all.

    So she’s working from home, and we communicate by phone. However, upper management apparently thought that since she was now at home, out of sight, out of mind, my workload would have somehow magically decreased, and they told me i’d be “helping out” another dept under our big departmental umbrella. But it was never clearly communicated to me what that actually meant.

    I soon found out. They basically wanted me to be a full time admin for that group, as well as for my current boss. And I didn’t have enough work experience etc. to know how to get clarification, plus i was very intimidated by our grandboss. So i just floundered along, stressed to the max, not doing particularly well at all, until my job was “eliminated”. They had purchased a smaller co, and i was told it was a case of “two people, one job, and we chose the other person”

    i cannot tell you how relieved i was, once i got over the shock. So very happy to have gotten out of that nightmare. My current boss however was furious, as they hadn’t consulted HER at all. i was let go on a friday, and she called me monday first thing. she was pissed!

    Best part? my replacement started monday too, and by noon on Tuesday she had walked out. apparently they just told her “here you go, figure it out” or some such nonesense. my old boss called me to gloat and we laughed about it.

  23. OP*

    Hi everyone, OP here.

    Thanks so much Alison for your advice and everyone else for all the comments – I’ve read them all, and will respond soon.

    I just wanted to add a few extra details about my employment, because a lot of people are suggesting I need to revaluate if this is a good position for me.

    I don’t think you’re wrong, but I’m very concerned that quitting now is going to have serious consequences for my ability to get a different role in the future.

    Basically, I haven’t had a role last more than 4 months since 2014. I have good reasons for this, but that statement on it’s own looks very concerning. What happened was that I started in a graduate role in the same city where I attended university, did well for a few years, but got itchy and wanted something more. I applied for and got a year-long role in another country with an international development program. The first NGO I was assigned to fell apart (literally shut down) 3 months after I arrived. It took a month to find a new NGO on that program – I worked there 7 months, then finished a month early for a range of reasons. After that, I just wanted to travel, so I took short-term high-paying jobs to build up my savings. The first role was a 3 month contract – I delivered it perfectly, it was a great experience. The second role was a total farce, I quit after 4 months, it’s still the worst workplace I’ve ever experienced. The third role was good, but after 4 months I had saved enough money to travel for a year so I quit. I was a short-term employee through a labour-hire firm – it was not unexpected.

    After 2 months on the road, I started freelancing. My goal was to get home after a year without an empty bank account, and I succeeded. Once home, I took another short contract, just 2 months this time, but I also really pushed my freelancing to see if the momentum I’d built could take me anywhere. By the time my 2-month contract was done, I’d replaced my full-time income with a freelance income. I took off overseas again, and spent about 2 years living the full-time-travel freelance digital nomad lifestyle. It was mostly great, but I started to feel like I wasn’t learning any more. I’m the type who once I get good at something, I get bored, and I want to learn something new. Given my field, I thought the best way to do that would be with a full-time job. I had also been deeply missing working collaboratively with people – I’m a very team-oriented person, and my freelance lifestyle wasn’t satisfying in that respect.

    The job I took is with one of the top companies in my sector in my country. Everyone in my sector knows and respects this company – it has an extremely good reputation, and all of my clients were impressed that I was going to work for this company. Having worked here for any time at all is a boost to my resume.

    One thing I know for sure is that both my referees were asked “is she a flight risk?”. I had prepared them for this question – they said as long as she’s being challenged, she’ll stay, and she really cares about the company and what it does. I know that they looked at my resume and while they were impressed with my skills and experiences, I obviously look flighty. At this stage, I can tell a story about my flightiness that makes sense. If I quit this role in less than a year, I don’t think I can.

    Hence, I’m extremely reluctant to call this a bad fit and walk away. Given how prominent this company is in my sector, and how patchy my resume is, I really think I need to stick it out.

    Also, unemployment benefits have come up a few times. In my country, there’s no differentiation between fired or quit, but if you have savings (and I do), there’s a 13 week waiting period before you can access any benefits. I would just switch back to freelancing, and try to pick up another short-term contract if it came to that.

    Thanks everyone, I really really appreciate your comments and I’ll respond to more soon.


    1. AcademiaNut*

      Ah, that background does make a difference.

      It may be that your background was contributing to the problem as well. All your employment experience is as a very new employee, when you’re still actively learning the job, and generally being trained and supervised fairly intensely. So you don’t really have experience in what a job feels like when you’re in the post training phase when you’re simply doing the job, which could have helped you settle into the job when you weren’t being strongly supervised.

      On a larger scale, it sounds like your pattern of getting bored as soon as you master a task and moving on is starting to have serious consequences professionally. In general, most parts of a job are not the exiting learning new stuff part. I actually have a job that involves constantly learning and applying new things (research related, with a PhD background), but even then there’s still repetition and boring parts.

      I think you’re right that quitting would be bad for your career trajectory, as would being let go after your probationary period. So go with Alison’s advice for laying it on the table, and working really hard to do well. Also – if you can pull it around and get kept on past your probation, stick with it for a few years even if you’re bored silly.

      One thing to consider in the longer term might be getting part of your fix of novelty and learning outside of your core job duties – take on line classes, pick up challenging hobbies – so that you aren’t fleeing jobs out of boredom every few months, particularly if you don’t see yourself as a permanent freelancer.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      So I went to a school that everyone said was a good school. Once I saw it from the inside, I realized it was not what people thought. When I commented to this effect the truth came pouring out, “Yeah, that’s really not that great a school….”
      OP, the places we think have a great rep, may NOT have a great rep with people who actually know what is going on.
      These stories can take twists and turns. As with most of life, the things we think are The Things many times end up being not what we thought. I am sure there are people in the know who can tell you they knew this place is falling a part on the inside. Typically these people wait until it’s too late to tell us. Sigh.

    3. LGC*

      Okay, then – yeah – trying to stick it out does make some sense.

      I have a slightly unrelated inquiry about something you wrote in your original letter, and I’m bolding the part that jumped out to me:

      After three months, I found out that the CEO had asked one of the senior members of my team to be my interim manager until the new ED started. I didn’t realized that for three months, because my interim manager hadn’t been giving me the guidance I needed to do my job.

      i BeG yOuR pArDoN?!

      Like, man – okay, you’re not doing great, and it sounds like your company is in a bit of flux and balls get dropped, but holy smokes your manager just forgot to manage you for three months?

      I think I need to go lie down for a bit.

      Since I’m the self-appointed king of bad advice, I would like to suggest that you discreetly link the new ED to this blog post. Because if she’s a decent person, she’ll read this, understand your position, and be at least half as horrified as I was by this. (Don’t actually do this, but I mean, just – that is terrible.)

      At any rate, yeah, I really dislike your interim manager, OP.

      1. OP*

        Yep, pretty much. It’s not that we had no contact, it’s more that I didn’t realise I could go to her with manager-type requests for help and guidance, and I didn’t feel like she gave me much.

        To your other point – I’ve wondered what would happen if someone recognised themselves on AAM. I hope that doesn’t happen here…!

  24. Big Biscuit*

    In my mind it always goes back to the following……1-Did I have a clear job description when I started. 2-Was the on boarding and training for my position organized and comprehensive. 3- Were there 30-60-90 check in and feedback opportunities. Doesn’t sound like any of that really happened.

  25. OP*

    Hey everyone, OP again

    Thanks so much for so many comments.

    This post was extremely timely.

    I’m located in Australia, so the post went live at my 3am, and I woke up to very useful advice and over 70 helpful comments. I read through them all before work, and took away the key message that yes, I need to address this.

    I had a subject-matter meeting with my new boss this morning which finished early, and we ended up talking more about her vision for the team, and my role within it. There ended up being a very neat segue into how things have gone with me so far. We had a brief but good chat about it, and yes, of course other people had told her that I’m struggling. But thankfully, her conclusion seems to be the same as mine – that I’ve been brought in during a period of intense transition and set up very badly because of it, that people management isn’t a strength of my Interim Manager, that expectations haven’t been clear, and that I have every right to be struggling right now. I told her I feel like I’m terrible at my job. She said I need to get rid of of that thinking right away, and that she wants me to be a fast learner but doesn’t expect me to know anything. It seems like we’re going to reframe my job quite a bit, and I’m going to have a lot of learning to do – which sounds good and bad at the same time, I hope I’m up to the challenge. Part of me is excited, part of me is so down on myself at the moment that I feel like I’m already failing. I’ve got a referral to a therapist, and I’m going to be talking stress management as a priority.

    We have another chat scheduled for tomorrow where I’m hoping we can go into more detail about expectations etc. But at the moment I’m hopeful.

    I really appreciate all the comments here. It made me feel heard, and helped me sort out what I needed to say to my new boss this morning. Thank you so much.

    1. Gloucesterina*


      I think it’s great to give yourself permission to keep learning, and that the new director explicitly wants to support you in this! In one of your comments above, you mentioned being at mid-career or perhaps at a “midpoint” time in your career, and suggesting that meant you had to figure out everything on your own with little guidance. Then I got around to reading that you’re actually very early-career, apart from the fact that meaningful communication about roles and expectations is good for anyone at any stage. You should definitely not burden yourself with the expectations of someone 10-20 years in a given field or whatever being truly mid-career means in your field.

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